10 September 2009

Pakistan: torn from home, school and friends

  1. In the Pakistan village Tootallay, children wait for food to be distributed.
  2. Hungry children wait patiently in line at a food distribution point in Jalala camp in Mardan, Pakistan.
  3. A Pakistani child giving her fingerprints in order to receive distribution of non-food items. She will collect items on behalf of her family.
  4. Pakistani children bring their registration and ID-cards to receive distribution of urgently needed non-food items.
  5. Pakistani children, according to cultural tradition, represent their family in absence of their fathers.
  6. World Vision has begun a targeted distribution of much needed items to villages and at homes where internally displaced families are staying.
  7. In Pakistan, these children and their grandmother have travelled 35km on mountain paths to flee the fighting.
  8. Thousands of children, just like this little boy, are living with host villages in Pakistan, having fled fighting near their homes.
  9. Children in the village Tootallay, Pakistan. Tootallay has become host to thousands of Internally Displaced Persons since the Pakistan crisis began.
  10. In the Chota Lahore camp in Pakistan this boy’s mother is fretting for the health of all her 9 children. Having lost their appetites they’re growing weaker every day.

Twelve-year-old Imran’s family fled their home in Pakistan on the first day of conflict in the Swat Valley. It was wrenching decision the family was forced to make – it meant abandoning their homes and the land they and their ancestors have inhabited for 400 years.

"It was the first week of our new academic year. My dear friend Waseem and I were both promoted to a new class. We were very excited by the new uniform, the feeling of being in 5th grade and the new colourful curriculum books really made us happy," says Imran, who is among hundreds of thousands of children from Buner district that are living in host communities.

Now Imran, and all the other children just like him, are on 'early summer vacation' from school. Across their province, school facilities have been turned into 'sub camps' to host thousands of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Of course, this means that people have been scattered all over the province, so Imran has been separated from Waseem and his other friends. "I don’t know where my friends will be now; you cannot imagine how painful it is being separated from your peers. Thinking of the last days we had together is the only memory in my mind ... I am very confused and sad. I don’t know when the happy days will return," says Imran.

Though a lack of medical support for the displaced is a major concern, the need for psychosocial support for IDPs, particularly children, is overwhelming.

"Children had to walk for miles to find safety across dangerous mountain passes to find safety in neighbouring villages. A lot of them saw and heard disturbing things. The whole experience of being uprooted from your home and everything that is familiar to you is very hard on children and families. It creates great stress and anxiety," says Heather MacLeod from World Vision’s Global Rapid Response Team, who is coordinating the organisation’s emergency response in Pakistan.

World Vision Pakistan plans to establish Child Friendly Spaces, in Buner, Mardan and Swabi districts where children will have the opportunity to play and learn in an informal setting under the supervision of trained educators and counsellors.

Until Imran can return to his classroom and laugh with Waseem, he desperately needs a reason to smile and hope for happy days.